Archive for August, 2012

Composed vs. Comprised

August 30, 2012

Today’s Tip of the Day comes from Rhonda Cavender of Shea Writing & Training Solutions, who helps people “create clarity out of chaos, one sentence at a time.”

‘Compose’ and ‘comprise’ are two verbs that are easy to mix up if the writer isn’t aware of their differences.

‘Compose’ means ‘to form by putting together,’ while ‘comprise’ means ‘to include, contain, or consist of.’
In both cases, we are dealing with parts and a whole.
Hint: when using ‘comprise,’ the whole always comes before the parts in the sentence.

The United States comprises 50 states.

Fifty states compose the United States.

NOTE: Most grammarians insist that ‘is comprised of’ is an incorrect phrase.

Although you will find some sources that will allow its usage, the Handbook of Technical Writing, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Associated Press Style Guide (among others) insist that the use of ‘comprised of’ is incorrect.

The following was taken directly from the Chicago Manual of Style:

comprise; compose. Use these with care.
To comprise is “to be made up of, to include” {the whole comprises the parts}.
To compose is “to make up, to form the substance of something” {the parts compose the whole}.
The phrase “comprised of,” though increasingly common, is poor usage. Instead, use “composed of” or “consisting of.”

Great Opportunity of the Day:
Shea Writing Solutions is holding a Technical Writing Workshop in Houston Sept. 5-7. 2012.
If you would like more info, visit: http://www


Three Mini-Tips

August 28, 2012

Today we will address three little items I’ve been collecting on my notepad of Tip Topics.

Error #1:
The re-occurring leaks may be due to corrosion.

Although “reoccur” is listed in my Merriam-Webster dictionary along with hundreds of other words that have a re– prefix (not hyphenated) meaning “again,” this is not the right word. The official word for something that occurs again after an interval is “recurring.”

Corrected Example #1:
The recurring leaks may be due to corrosion.

Error #2:
The generator will be sized similar to the other three in the field.

Q: What word or phrase does the word “similar” modify?
A: It modifies “will be sized,” which is a verb.
Similar is an adjective, and adjectives cannot modify verbs. Adverbs can modify verbs.
Q: What is the adverbial form of the adjective “similar”?
A: Similarly

Corrected Example #2:
The generator will be sized similarly to the other three in the field.

Error #3:
Both Well AB-1 and Well AB-2 have not produced any significant water.

There is a better sentence construction we can use to convey the same thought.
Instead of using “both X and Y have not,” we should use “neither X nor Y has.”

Corrected Example #3:
Neither Well AB-1 nor Well AB-2 has produced any significant water.

Profound Quote of the Day:
“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy; neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
– John W. Gardner, former US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, 1912-2002

Cite vs. Site

August 25, 2012

Cite is a verb that means to quote a paper or book as a reference, as in a scholarly publication. For example, you would cite an SPE paper in the Bibliography of your report. Think of the word “citation,” which is the noun derived from the verb “cite.”

Site is a noun that means an area or location on the ground where a building or facility is constructed. For example, you show a map of the proposed site for the steam generator in Figure 1 of your report.

Just to thicken the soup a bit, “site” can also be used as a verb meaning to build something in a particular place. Think of the word “situate.”

We plan to site the new steam generator within 100 m of where the new steam injection wells will be drilled.

Note: Web site, or location on the World Wide Web, used to be two words, but in 2010 the AP Stylebook decreed that “website” is a single word.

Handy-Dandy Website of the Day:
This site has lots of pairs of commonly misused words listed alphabetically.
Found an entry there on “site vs. cite,” which is why I’ve cited it here.

Good Advice of the Day:
“Be able to cite three good qualities of every relative or acquaintance that you dislike.”
– Marilyn vos Savant, American author of Ask Marilyn and Brain Power, b. 1946

Quick Fixes

August 23, 2012

I’ve amassed a list of corrections to address, and none of them merits its own diatribe. Therefore, I’ve lumped four of them together for today’s tip.

Error #1:
Community of practices.
The plural of “community of practice” is “communities of practice.”
It follows the same rule as mothers-in-law and attorneys at law, i.e., make the first noun plural.

Error #2:
Interested fields
Fields cannot be interested. People can be interested in these fields. Therefore the correct expression should be “fields of interest,” i.e., fields that are of interest to a person or people.

(Of course, you can have interesting fields.)

Error #3:
The porosity and permeability of the X formation are similar to that of the Y formation.
Let’s take a closer look at what the pronoun “that” represents.
The porosity and permeability of the X formation are similar to the porosity and permeability of the Y formation.
Can the single pronoun “that” substitute for the plural noun “porosity and permeability”?
No. We need to use the plural pronoun “those” here.
Corrected Example:
The porosity and permeability of the X formation are similar to those of the Y formation.

Error #4:
The oilfield was discovered in 1958 by Well ABC-1.
Wells cannot discover. Heck, they can’t even see! People discover, and sometimes they drill wells to make these discoveries.
Corrected Example:
The oilfield was discovered [by people] in 1958 with the ABC-1 well.

Typo of the Day:
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors awarded a plague of commemoration to the Consul General of Azerbaijan.
Sounds deadly! I’m sure it was a plaque, not a plague.

Profound Quote of the Day:
“Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.”
– William Safire, New York Times columnist, 1929-2009

More vs. Better

August 22, 2012

Here’s the dilemma of the day:
I like him better.
I like him more.
Which is correct?

Better refers to quality, whereas more refers to quantity.
I like him better now than I used to. (quality)
I like him more than he likes me. (quantity)

It’s the same situation with Best vs. Most.
“I like him best” refers to the quality of my affections: I like him best when he is smiling.
“I like him most” refers to the quantity of my affections: Of all my cousins, I like him most.

Now here’s a sentence that could go two different ways:
I like him more than Don.
Which of the following is meant?
I like him more than I like Don.
I like him more than Don likes him.
To remove any doubt, pick one of those two longer sentences and use that instead.

Here’s another tough dilemma:
I like him better/more than she.
I like him better/more than her.

Which is correct? Well, that depends on what you really mean. Again, use a longer sentence to clear up the fog.
I like him better than she does. The quality of my liking is higher than hers.
I like him more than I like her. The quantity of my liking him is greater.

How shall we remember this?
Good  Better  Best  (adjectives, quality)
Some  More  Most (adverbs, quantity)

(For a quick refresher on Good vs. Well, visit:

Profound Quote of the Day:
“Many marriages would be better if the husband and the wife clearly understood that they are on the same side.”
– Zig Ziglar, American author and motivational speaker, b. 1926

e e cummings

August 21, 2012

Here’s the dilemma of the day:
If a company does not capitalize the first letter of its name, should we?

This brings to mind the poet Edward Estlin Cummings, who sometimes used lower case letters and no punctuation in his byline in the same manner as his poetry:
e e cummings

OK, but that’s an artsy poet; he can get away with it. But what about serious technical writing? What about eni? What about iPad and eBay? How do you start a sentence with those company names? How do you treat them in headlines where all major words begin with a capital letter?

(For a refresher on capitalization rules for headlines and titles, visit:

I’ve recently seen the Italian oil company, Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi, written as eni, Eni, and ENI. I’ve heard it pronounced as “E-N-I” and “Ennie.” Which is correct? According to Wikipedia, the name is no longer used as an acronym, so “Ennie” would be the preferred pronunciation.

Rule of Thumb:
If the letters are pronounced individually, such as API, then you should use all capital letters.

The Wikipedia Manual of Style says to capitalize trademarks as proper names, and that would include trademarks that begin with a lower case letter. Thus, craigslist would be capitalized as Craigslist. And even though TIME magazine is all caps on the cover, we should write it as Time (italicized, of course.)

The AP Stylebook says it succinctly: “When a trademark is used, capitalize it.”

Whereas the Italian oil company name is no longer pronounced as separate letters,

and whereas trademark names should be capitalized,

therefore be it resolved to use Eni from now on.

And that is exactly what JPT, the Journal of Petroleum Technology published by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, does, and I always go by the SPE Style Guide as my primary source of oil patch writing wisdom.

But what about eBay and iPad?
Well, those go just as written, according to Wikipedia.

iPads are available on eBay.
eBay is where he bought his iPad.

However, if you can, try not to start a sentence with such trademark names.

He bought his iPad on eBay.

Profound Quote of the Day:
“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”
– e e cummings, American poet, 1894-1962

Foresee vs. Envision

August 18, 2012

Here’s a sentence that I didn’t like:
The redevelopment plan foresees the following drilling activities.

For one thing, plans cannot foresee. Only humans can foresee something – and mainly divinely inspired ones at that!

Some better ways to say this:
We anticipate the following drilling activities as part of this redevelopment plan.
This redevelopment plan includes the following drilling activities.
We envision the following drilling activities.
The following drilling activities are envisioned.

To foresee means to know about something beforehand. When writing about future events or activities that may or may not turn out as planned, using the word foresee implies a certainty that really does not exist. To foresee conveys the idea of knowing or expecting something is going to happen before it does. Foresee also can convey the idea of premonition, prophecy, or foretelling the future, and believe me, engineers don’t have that ability!

Envision means to picture to oneself, to imagine in one’s mind, or to conceive of as a possibility in the future. This is a much better verb to use in front-end engineering and design concepts and five-year plans.

Funny Typo of the Day:
(Actually, this one has two in the same sentence.)
The data are showing a slop change and mowing up to an average value.

Sounds like Farmer Brown is changing the feed for the animals and mowing with his tractor up a hill to the usual place.

What the author really meant was:
The data are showing a slope change and moving up to an average value.
In other words, we have a nice inflection point and things are looking much better now.
Profound Quote of the Day:
“When my job was attempting to predict future economic developments for the Shell oil company, I was frequently reminded of an Arabic saying: ‘Those who claim to foresee the future are lying, even if by chance they are later proved right.’”
– Vince Cable, British politician (Business Secretary), b. 1943

Webster’s New Words

August 16, 2012

Every year the editors at Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary add some new words that have gained enough usageto become a part of the everyday English language. Here are a few that are now officially part of our lexicon.

aha moment – Word used by Oprah Winfrey to mean sudden insight. I use the term “profound revelation.”

bucket list – From the movie by that name, a list of things you want to accomplish before you die. I have two: write the novel, and travel all around Europe (Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and Greece at a minimum).

cloud computing – Data and applications hosted remotely; all you need is an Internet browser.

copernicium – Chemical element number 112 (symbol Cn) named after Copernicus. It’s the chemist’s dream to name a new element after oneself, e.g., Jeannium or Perduium.

earworm – That song you can’t get out of your head. The antidote for earworm is the theme song from the movie Sound of Music. “The hills are alive….” Works every time.

energy drink – Monster and 5-hour Energy cost more than a dollar each, but V8 just came out with V-Fusion + Energy, which is only $.50. I have two flavors in the fridge and plan to try one tomorrow.

f-bomb – Saying the F-word in a public place or on TV to cause a real stir.

game changer – New technology that changes the whole marketplace. Shell has a technology ventures investment program named GameChanger.

gassed – Slang for drained of energy; in need of an energy drink. My son when he was four years old said he was “disausted” after a long day of shopping. “Gassed” would have been easier for him to say than “exhausted,” but the word hadn’t been invented yet.

gastropub – A bar or tavern that offers really good food. Call Guy Fieri to be featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

man cave – A room, garage, or basement decorated according to male preferences to be used for he-man hobbies and leisurely pursuits. No girls allowed.

mash-up – Taking two similar things from separate sources and combining them, as in music, movies, or Web applications.

systemic risk – The risk that the failure of one part will cause failures in other connected parts such that the whole system fails. This needs to be addressed better in oil company HSE plans.

underwater – When you owe more on your house mortgage than the property is worth; subsea.

Aha Moment of the Day:
“They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.”
Confucius, Chinese philosopher, 551-479 BC

Hanged vs. Hung

August 14, 2012

I was editing and saw a figure caption where three different well logs were “hanged” from a certain datum for comparison. I had to laugh. You see, “hanged” is used as a past participle when someone is put to death by hanging from a rope – especially here in Texas. “Hung” is the past tense and past participle of the verb “to hang” if you are using a wall as opposed to a tree limb, and when you are hanging an object as opposed to a person.

Hung Examples:
I hung the freshly starched and ironed battenburg lace curtains in the kitchen window. (past)
My husband had hung the three framed Al Richardson oilfield sketches in the hallway. (past participle)

Hanged Example:
The guy who took the last cup of coffee on Monday morning and didn’t make any more should be hanged, cut down, cremated, and his ashes put in a coffee filter, and then push “brew.”
What’s in a name?
I saw a truck of the commercial van style with the following company name painted on it:
TNT Electrical Contractors
This sort of name does not give a good idea of the contractor’s safety record in installing electrical systems.

TNT Demolition Contractors, maybe, but TNT Electrical Contractors is not a good name.
Funny Typo of the Day:
They are having an Employee Appreciation Luncheon over here at my office this Friday. (Sorry, all you folks fasting for Ramadan, maybe next year they will take that into consideration.)
Anyway, the flyer they emailed to everybody said the following:
“Buffett starts at 11:45 am.”

I hope a flock of parrot-heads doesn’t show up wondering where singer Jimmy Buffett is.
I’m sure the office is not ready for Margaritaville; they were planning a simple buffet.

Quote of the Day:
“Dullness is the only crime for which an editor ought to be hung.”
Josephus Daniels, American newspaper editor, US Secretary of the Navy during World War I, 1862-1948

Note: Yes, you can use “hung” for people on a rope (“hanged” is preferred), but you cannot use “hanged” for pictures, curtains, or well logs.

Parentheses vs. Commas

August 10, 2012

I got a follow-up question about the i.e. and e.g. reprise I sent out Tuesday. Lori asks:
“In your examples, e.g. was in parentheses and i.e. was not. Is there a rule about when to use parentheses and when to use commas with these abbreviations?”

Well, Lori, the use of parentheses doesn’t depend on whether it was i.e. or e.g., but how either one is used in the sentence. A parenthetical expression adds supplemental information to the sentence, such as background, asides, tangents, afterthoughts and other related matter that could be left out entirely and have the sentence still make perfect sense.

The company hires many geoscientists (i.e., geologists and geophysicists).
The company hires many engineers, e.g., mechanical, chemical, and petroleum engineers.

Basically, either one could go either way, using either commas or parentheses depending on the emphasis you want to give the material.

The AP Stylebook says to use parentheses sparingly.
“Parentheses are jarring to the reader. … If a sentence must contain incidental material, then commas or two dashes are frequently more effective. Use these alternatives whenever possible.”

However, em dashes tend to emphasize the text in between them, whereas parentheses tend to de-emphasize the text in between them, and commas tend to imply the same emphasis as the rest of the sentence.

The 50-km pipeline runs from Point A—in the jungle—to City B on the coast.
The 50-km pipeline runs from Point A (in the jungle) to City B on the coast.
The 50-km pipeline runs from Point A, in the jungle, to City B on the coast.

Punctuation Rules for Parentheses:
If there is a full sentence inside them, put the period or question mark inside.
If there is an incomplete sentence inside them, put the period or question mark outside.

Next, we developed a crossplot of porosity and permeability. (This is Step 5 in the workflow.)
Next, we developed a crossplot of porosity and permeability (Figure 5).

Two more rules about parentheses:
Parenthesis is singular, but they usually come in pairs, which are called parentheses.
Make sure you have two of them and that they are facing each other!

Astute Quote of the Day:
“I hold that the parentheses are by far the most important parts of a non-business letter.”
– David Herbert Lawrence, English writer, 1885-1930